Throwback: Athens 2016

Throwback: Athens 2016

By Cullen Baggett | May 30, 2024

Left to right: Calvin Pettyjohn, Dalton Croy, Katey Davis, Chase Hockema, Nic Joransen

       Recently, someone asked me who I thought was the best team I’d ever personally seen quiz. After thinking for just a few seconds I answered them.  I’ll try to share my rationale for the answer I gave that person.

       Before I begin, I must acknowledge my perspective of great teams only dates back to 2011. I never saw Berean (TN) in the 80s, the Master’s Academy (FL) or Schaumburg (IL) in the 90s, or the absolute domination that was Pleasant View (KY) in the 2000s, though I have seen some fantastic teams in my time. 

       A few that come to mind would be 2012-2013 Hillsdale (FL), 2016-2017 Kettle Moraine (WI), or the current run of Falls (WI) since 2021. All of these teams were and are amazing. But when I think back to all the great teams that I have seen quiz, past and present, whether as a spectator, quizmaster, coach, or competitor, the 2015-2016 Athens (GA) team takes the top spot in my mind as the best team I have seen. 

       Great teams are made of up great quizzers and great coaches. 2016 Athens was no different. The coaching staff was large and experienced. David P, who had coached the team for the previous four seasons, moved away in the summer of 2015, making Dr. Bruce H the head coach, supported by his wife and the long-time Bible quiz mind, Jack B. The five quizzers making up this team were Dalton C, Calvin P, Katey D, Chase H, and Nic J. From 1-5, this team was the strongest of any I have ever seen, past or present. 

       Before the coach P era, Athens as a program had won AACS a few times. Once in 1993 and again in 2003. Athens would not win another major until January 2014. What would become the 2016 team, for the most part, grew up quizzing together since elementary and middle school. While they competed in the PQA and attended a few regional tournaments, they were never quite able to keep up with the top programs of the time such as Hillsdale (FL), Heritage Mission (NY), or Woodside (CO). It wasn’t until the arrival of Coach P in 2011 that the program really started to compete among the best.

       As a former quizzer and member of the 2003 AACS winning team, Coach P invested heavily in the individual members of the team, pushing them to give their all. His intensity and sense of humor were unmatched. Over the 2011-2013 seasons, the Athens teams would sneak into the top 3-5, quietly improving from tournament to tournament. One should have seen it coming.

       Then the 2013-2014 season over Corinthians started. Coming off a year in which Hillsdale (FL) swept all the majors over Acts, Athens was poised to fill the vacuum. Hillsdale lost their top quizzer to graduation and their dominance was sure to come to an end. 

       By November 2013, Dalton, Katey, and Calvin would have all of Corinthians memorized. They would go and win the Great Lakes Invitational in Wisconsin, the Smoky Mountain Invitational in December, and the Athens New year’s Classic in January. At CI & SCQANIT, they lost close championship quizzes to Temple (TN), finishing 2nd in the national rankings behind Temple at the end of the season.

       The 2014-2015 season over Matthew was a roller coaster to say the least for this team. After finishing second at the New Year’s Classic in January 2015, they quizzed poorly at CI. Though, perhaps the best team there, they finished 11th after two “error fest” quizzes. Instead of throwing up the white flag, they would go on to win SCQANIT two months later, beating Hillsdale in the finals who had just won CI. Because of the poor finish at CI, they would again finish behind Temple in the national rankings that year. Some argued that despite the low finish at CI, Athens was the strongest team in the country.

       If you’ve lost count, at this point 2011-2015, the Athens program won two majors: 2014 New Year’s Classic and 2015 SCQANIT. Thus starts the legendary 2015-2016 season over Hebrews and Peter. Over the summer, coach P moved as mentioned earlier, making Dr. Bruce H the coach. While not as intense as Coach P, coach H possessed a methodical, encouraging, and calm approach taking the team to new heights. Let’s run through that team.

       First, Dalton. A senior and statistically the best quizzer on the team, Dalton was versatile in his answer ability (though a specialist in the partial reference questions), very analytical, and very intense balanced with hilarious. He was the team motivator and his contributions cannot be overstated. You could never count Dalton down or out. Under his leadership from the quiz pads, Athens gave their all. His competitive spirit and love for his team was unmatched.

       Second, we have Calvin. If Dalton was a partial reference specialist, then Calvin specialized in verbatim-type questions. Arguably the fastest draw in the Bible quiz west, Calvin nearly had a monopoly on quotes, finishes, and give the reference questions. I personally hated quizzing against Calvin because I had to completely alter my strategy. If your team relied too heavily on those questions to obtain points, you could nearly forget about them with Calvin in the quiz. Calvin, a junior, was capable of leading this team statistically but humbly filled his role exactly where he was needed. A very underrated quizzer.

       Third, fourth, and fifth, we have Katey, Chase, and Nic. I can summarize best by saying most teams at any given tournament would love to have Katey, Chase, or Nic as their #1 quizzer. All three were smart, knew their chapters (that is to say, probably all of the chapters), all three could be depended upon, and all three knew their role. Each had the ability to pull down multiple question types multiple times per quiz. If Bible Quiz had a draft, Katey, Chase, and Nic would all come off the board in the first two rounds. 

       Starting the Major tournament tour at the Athens New Year’s Classic. The team quizzed strongly all day but got a loss by 10-20 points in the final 3. After eliminating the Falls (WI) in the next quiz, they faced Temple who had no lows. The first quiz, they beat Temple handedly, sitting for most of the error zone with a safe win. The second quiz was a nail-biter, back and forth the whole way!

       Question 19, Dalton quizzed out leaving the other four to finish the tournament. I can remember a timeout going into question 20. My coach told me, “this is your question. Bring it home” he said. Before time back in, I looked in the crowd, made eye contact with Dalton, and noticed an eager and calm look on his face. This joker had total confidence in his team. I turned my attention back to the quizmaster, listening intently. “In I Peter 3, how may they be w. .?” is all I get. I stand up and take one step forward before noticing--that’s not my light! Katey walks to the mic and says “Oh! They may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives.” After a climactic pause, the quizmaster announced “that is correct.” The crowd erupted and Dalton could barely contain his smile. Their statistical 3rd best quizzer pulled through for them to win a major. 

       Then comes the Colorado Invitational in February. I’ll keep this short; they ran like Secretariat. Athens would not be denied. Though Temple’s top quizzer, a guy I know very well, quizzed very poorly in the championship quiz offering it on a silver platter with a cherry on top, it didn’t matter. Athens dominated. If you’ve ever seen the classic fight, Larry Holmes vs. Marvis Frazier, you have an idea of what this annihilation looked like. If you haven’t, just picture a semi-truck running over a watermelon on the highway and you have an idea.  

       To close out the year, Athens went to SCQANIT in April. The goal was to defend that SCQANIT title from the previous year and be voted the undeniable #1 for the season. In just the fourth quiz of the day, they found themselves against Temple (TN) and Hope (IN). What they didn’t know is that Temple and Hope were working together, intentionally splitting toss up questions off of Athens’s errors. This strategy resulted in a low for Athens. 

       While the loss was an artificial one to say the least, the team was nonetheless just one bad quiz away from being eliminated and de-railing their season. As you might have already guessed, that didn’t happen. Athens would go through the next several quizzes looking as strong as ever. Hope finished 5th and Temple finished 4th, leaving Athens, Temple 2, and Kettle Moraine, each with one low. 

       Kettle Moraine finished 3rd leaving Athens and Temple 2 to fight it out in the championship. While Temple 2 surprised many with its unprecedented run, what surprised even more was the start to the quiz. The underdog was running away from Athens. I wish I had a scoresheet but if I recall correctly, Temple 2 was up by a 140 or 160-point margin on the question that their best quizzer quizzed out. Everyone in the audience would witness a comeback for the ages.

       Every member of the team answered initial questions contributing to the comeback. Late in the quiz, Temple 2 needed just one question to put Athens away. They could not do it. After question 20, the score was an even 200-200. Athens went into the tiebreaker with all the momentum in the world. Tiebreaker question 1, “According to Hebrews 13:1”. Nic jumped up and answered with calm confidence “brotherly love, brotherly love is to continue.” Ballgame. Your 2016 SCQANIT champions, Athens. The 5th best statistical quizzer on the team pulled through, winning a championship quiz in the most high-pressure of situations.

       As non-AACS members, that SCQANIT win concluded their season. Of course, they were voted #1, sweeping all of the first-place votes. Mission accomplished. Dalton, Chase, and Katey would graduate that May. The next season, Calvin would lead the team to its potential for the experience they had but never touching the capabilities of that 2016 team. He was possibly the best quizzer in the nation in 2017, but that’s neither here nor there.

       So why do I consider this team the best I’ve ever seen? I’ll explain some of my reasons as briefly as I can. Here are four of them:

  1. The depth. Dalton had a bad quiz? So what. Calvin or Katey was struggling? One couldn’t afford to write them off.  More quizzers could pull through for the team. While most top-notch teams are led by one or two quizzers then have a gap to their supporting cast, Athens had five quizzers who could be depended on to answer questions and win quizzes. While the team was reliant on Dalton, they were never too-reliant on him, nor did they need to be. Calvin, Katey, Chase, and Nic would all be #1 quizzers on most teams.
  2. The chemistry. Most teams that do have that level (or near level) of depth that Athens possessed, tend to self-implode. They compete against each other and get into jump frenzies. All of these quizzers knew their roles and worked together like a true team. That unity was evident to anyone watching. Remember, Calvin was arguably the best quizzer in the country after Dalton graduated but you would never picture that in 2016. He knew his role and had it mastered. The whole team operated this way. They might have learned this from I Corinthians 12 during the 2013-2014 season.
  3. The high level of competition. During the 2011-2020 cycle (The book of John through the material cycle), there was a lot of parity and many top-notch quizzers. Heritage Mission (NY), Bethel Calvary (SC), Temple (TN), Kettle Moraine (WI), Hillsdale (FL), Hope (IN) and Woodside (CO) just to name a few, were realistically competing to win most of the tournaments they attended. Most of these teams were led by one or two great quizzers who would have a chance to be a top 3 quizzers at any given tournament. It was from this high-competition that Athens rose above, further adding value to their success.
  4. The ability to bounce back and come back in quizzes. Most teams who get down in a quiz have a very hard time coming back. They seem to dig their hole even deeper. Even the best teams in the country. They rely more so on getting big leads early. Not Athens. I lost track of how many times this team was down 100+ points after the midway point in a quiz and went on to get the high or middle win. There was a calm energy and confidence this team had to never back down or give up. The amount of focus and discipline this team had in less-than-ideal quiz situations I have not seen since.

       There you have it. Just a few reasons I consider the Athens 2016 team the best I’ve ever seen. Here’s a fun statistic for you: From Jan 2014 – April 2016 Athens participated in 9 majors. They won five of them and placed 2nd at three. Of the three 2nd place finishes, one was one the last question. This means that over that period, they were only once eliminated in a three-team quiz. And during that time, they just kept improving, winning the last four majors they attended. Maybe the most satisfying part for the team, they rode off into the sunset with a dramatic victory in their final quiz together, culminating in a unanimous #1 ranking. What an appropriate way to sign off. Today, I look back on this team as an example of greatness, unity, and the determination to never give up.

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